Category Archives: Photography

The Last of the Chelsea Hotel


Just got my copy of Colin Miller and Ray Mock’s book, Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven, about the few remaining residents of the legendary hotel.

Legendary? Well, for starters, the Chelsea is the hotel where Sid Vicious (maybe) murdered Nancy Spungen, and where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. Mark Twain stayed there, and so did several survivors of the Titanic. Former residents include Bob Dylan and Madonna, Jackson Pollock and Bette Midler.

And Stanley Kubrick, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsberg, and Patti Smith. And Jim Morrison. And Andy Warhol, but of course you probably already assumed that.

Oh, and the Chelsea is where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jack Kerouac typed On the Road.

In 2011, the Chelsea was sold to a real estate developer who closed the hotel “for renovations”.  Residents protected by rent regulations were allowed to stay, but no new tenants were accepted. The disruption and health hazards caused by renovation construction were widely perceived as an attempt by the new owners to drive the protected residents from the building.

The attempt was largely successful. Nine years later, the “renovations” are still ongoing, and only a few of the old residents are still living in the building. And not just living, but living well, which is the best revenge.

Here are some of their homes. (All photos found online.)


Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel

Leonard Cohen had a brief, very 60ish thing with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea, and wrote two songs about it. Here’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. (Mildly NSFW lyrics.)


Chelsea Girls and Lads All Must
As Chimney-Sweepers, Come to Dust

After Nico left the Velvet Underground, she released a solo album called Chelsea Girl which included a song about some of the speed freaks, debutantes, hustlers, drag queens, and heiresses who made up Andy Warhol’s assemblage of Superstars and who lived, sometimes, at the Chelsea Hotel. Here’s an audio-only recording of “Chelsea Girls”

Sotheby’s Auction Results: That Mario Buatta Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen

I mentioned in an earlier post how much I lusted after one specific item from Sotheby’s auction of Mario Buatta’s personal possessions, the  “Louis XV Five-Fold Blue and White Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen, the Wallpaper 18th Century”. I promised to post the sale price after the auction.

The auction is over now, and it was a huge success, bringing in $7.6 million, about 2½ times the official Sotheby’s high estimate.

And the screen? The pre-sale estimate was that it would go for $4,000 to $6,000.

It went for $15,000.

Designed by the Mario Buatta of Bizarro World

From the exterior, this house looks fine. Inside, it looks like it was thrown together by a troop of monkeys who had somehow highjacked a shipment of Heisenberg’s finest blue meth.

I posted recently about Sotheby’s Auction of the Mario Buatta Estate, and about Buatta’s mastery of English country house style. If on some distant Bizarro World, there’s a Bizarro Mario Buatta, this is what his interiors would look like.

The "Grand" Staircase

The “Grand” Staircase

Imagine the entrance you could make walking down these stairs, dressed head-to-toe in Cruella de Vil’s Dalmatian-skin coat, flicking the ashes from your cigarette holder as you go.

The Dining Room/Armory

The Dining Room/Armory

Because it’s always a good idea to have a lot of guns close at hand, in the (very) unlikely event that someone might try to steal your precious possessions.

The Sitting Room

The Sitting Room

Furnishings and accessories from the Dollar Store’s “Kalifornia Kool Kollection”.

The Billiard Room

The Billiard Room

The Billiard Room, where Professor Plum killed Mr. Boddy with the candlestick. Plum claimed he’d been driven crazy by the decor, and was acquited by reason of insanity.


The house is owned by someone identified as “Dr. Phil”, who is apparently a TV “personality”. He’s never lived there, though—Why not?—and it’s currently being used by his son.

The house is on the market for $5.75 million. According to the listing, the one-of-a-kind finishes can be kept.

Sotheby’s Auction of the Mario Buatta Estate

Mario Buatta, affectionately known as “The Prince of Chintz”, died in October 2018 at the age of 82. On 23 January 2020, Sotheby’s will host an auction of his personal possessions, under the title Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors.

Here’s a pdf of the full 236-page catalogue for the auction, suitable for downloading.

If I could pick just one item from that catalogue, it would be this:

The catalogue describes it as a “Louis XV Five-Fold Blue and White Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen, the Wallpaper 18th Century” The estimate is between $4,000 and $6,000, but auction house estimates for this sort of thing are always absurdly low, so as not to frighten away potential buyers. I’ll post the real price after the auction.


Mario Buatta’s interiors were designed to be reminiscent of the rooms in an English country house. Here are some samples, found on the Web:


I’ve always thought of Buatta as the Ralph Lauren of interior design.

Ralph Lauren (né Lifshitz) was born in The Bronx in the 1930s, to first-generation Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Lauren has built his empire by styling clothes that reflect a classic old-money WASP sensibility, very different from the world of his youth.

Mario Buatta was born on Staten Island in 1930s, and grew up in a house where the living
room “was off-limits so that the vacuum tracks might not get disturbed.” Buatta became the master of a style that captured the look and feel of the English country house.

Washington Is Losing a Panda — The Last of Bei Bei


The Giant Pandas at the National Zoo, like all the other pandas at zoos in the United States, don’t belong to the Zoo itself. They’re effectively rented from the People’s Republic of China on a 10-year lease, for about a million dollars a year, each.

If a panda cub is born in the US, the Zoo is charged a $400,000 baby tax, and the cub must be shipped to China when it turns four years old.


Bei Bei Celebrates His Fourth Birthday

Bei Bei, the Zoo’s youngest panda, was born on 22 August 2015, so it’s time to say goodbye. Next Tuesday, 19 November 2019, he’ll leave for China.

So much for birthright citizenship.


The National Zoo has scheduled a week of special events leading up to Bei Bei’s departure, including Q&A sessions with panda keepers and panda feeding times with special treats. Airbnb is providing free hot chocolate to Zoo visitors on Saturday morning. Here’s a full listing of what’s planned. As always, admission to the Zoo is free.

If you’re not in the area, or just want to avoid DC’s November weather, you can watch the action on the Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam. Camera One will be focused exclusively on Bei Bei for the full week. (Note: Pandas sleep a lot. The cameras operate 24/7, but your best chance for seeing live panda action is at feeding times and around midday, East Coast time.)


The National Zoo has posted videos of some of Bei Bei’s most memorable moments  Here are two of them:

Bei Bei’s First Steps

Playing in the Snow

From BBC Earth — A Glorious Seven Worlds, One Planet

For the past few weeks, a brilliant new nature series called Seven Worlds, One Planet, has been playing on BBC One. Each of the seven episodes focuses on a different continent; segments of the show were filmed in 41 different countries.

The narrator is naturalist Sir David Attenborough, as if it could be anyone else.

Here’s a sample, in which a Giant Leopard Seal pursues a Tiny Penguin:

Warning. The photography in the show is stunning, but Nature is not always pretty. Some viewers in the UK have responded to parts of the series with tears or nausea.

US viewers will be able to judge for themselves when Seven WorldsOne Planet premieres on Saturday, 18 January 2020, on BBC America, AMC, IFC,  and SundanceTV.


Survivor: Galápagos

From Planet Earth II — View in Full Screen

Remember the famous “Iguana vs Snakes” sequence from the BBC series, Planet Earth II?  When that little iguana made a run for safety as the rocks around it erupted with dozens of hungry snakes, we witnessed the most exciting chase scene in any movie or TV show released in 2016. I’ve reposted it at the bottom of this item. Three years later, it’s as breathtaking as ever.